The year was 1994 in a small town called Crossville, Tennessee. For those unaware, it's about 60-70 miles outside of Knoxville. Somewhere in the boxes is a tape of a Thanksgiving long and forgotten, the turkey, dressing, and ham have since been had at least one score once more. But the discussion remained focus on the baby...that baby was me.
"He's such a smart young man, I bet he ends up going somewhere like Middle Tennessee State, maybe even getting his doctorate!"
"Middle Tennessee State? No, that boy is born and bred for Vanderbilt University. He is that smart."
If you ask my teachers they might have told you I was the dumbest smart kid they ever knew, smart enough to be top of the class, lazy enough to finish near the bottom. A lot of distractions got in my way to say the least. For years though the thought was plain and simple, Seth Luttrell (that's me) was born to be a Commodore. I grew up in the summer time watching Charlie Ward and the Seminoles tear it up in the summer time, but my only fall football insight came from that of my father. The man who bled Tennessee orange for years and has up until this day. In fact last Christmas he got me a Tennessee pullover...even though he knew. Years ago it was a Peyton Manning bobblehead...even then, he knew. I loathed Tennessee with the passion brighter than that damn checkerboard.
To give credit to my dad, we are close even if he is a Vols fan. He always asks me how they're going to do and I always give him the down to earth answer, I am a football coach after all. But it got deeper than that...fast forward to the year 1997 and my life is just starting to take shape. Weekends are filled full of sega games and watching crappy cartoons of said games on the USA Network. But something lingers in the back of my mind I never quite understand...why is everybody wearing orange on Saturday? To be fair while I enjoyed football a lot I was never into it the way I am now. It wasn't my life, I didn't eat, sleep, and breathe it until the Titans came around...then it became my life and my way of bonding with the old man.
My grandfather was an Arkansas fan, but he was one of the first to say he believed I could be at Vanderbilt or any other Ivy League school for that matter. In fact that's where he wanted me to be. My uncle graduated from Alabama, my cousins from Middle Tennessee State, and my mother from Tennessee Chattanooga. While I have yet to graduate I've taken classes at a lot of places, but not until I focused on my academics first. One of these places was Harvard, a school many say Vanderbilt is the southern version of. Will I ever have the chance to go to Vanderbilt University? Probably not. But if you ask me still to this day where I'd love to coach? It's Vanderbilt University. I may love Florida State...but Vanderbilt and I go together and have been linked since 1989. But here's the rest of the story...
In high school everybody was a Tennessee fan. I do mean everybody. The halls were filled with orange and white sweatshirts, with little to nothing else. We had a couple of Michigan fans who were transplants, maybe the odd Florida fan...but Tennessee was the school to be at. Most of my classmates ended up at East Tennessee State or Tennessee Tech, with only a couple becoming Volunteers. When the custom ringtones became popular, it wasn't uncommon to hear Rocky Top 5-6 times a day. To say this place was going to slowly drive me insane was an understatement. The one day I showed up wearing a Vanderbilt shirt I was mocked and laughed at, surely I didn't think Vanderbilt was a good football team did I? That was the year Jay Cutler beat the Vols...a couple years later the Dores toppled Boston College in the Music City Bowl. Thus began my love/hate relationship with Vanderbilt.
The thing that always got me angry about the Vols were three things. The arrogance, the history, and the underachieving nature of their football team. I got tired of hearing that it was always going to be their year. Tyler Bray was their savior, Da'Rick Rodgers and Justin Hunter were going to bring them out of their slump along with Bryce Brown. Yet when they didn't live up to the hype the next words out of their mouth were simply "go back and check our history...lol losers!" Reggie White might have been the greatest defensive player to ever walk the earth...but the biggest disgrace to him was wearing orange and white. Al Wilson was one hell of a middle linebacker...but the same thing applies to him as well. Peyton Manning? The man I loathed growing up? I respect the hell out of him now, but I will never forgive him for going to Tennessee.
And then there is us...the lowly Commodores. A team who was lead gracefully and respectfully by Bobby Johnson, a man who worked his hands to the bone making Vanderbilt a relevant program. Did he recruit the sexiest talent in the world? Nope, he sure didn't. But did he get the most out of the talent he had? You're damn right he did. He is the reason both Coach Franklin and Coach Mason had success, it was his efforts that took Vanderbilt away from being the redheaded step child to being a team that can get SEC talent and can play SEC football. While the dark cloud of the Franklin era (you know what I mean) hung over the program Mason cleaned house and set us up for a chance to be great. He's doing it with a lot of Franklin guys, but he had to break them and re-teach them how he wanted it done. I admire him for doing such a thing, because it's not easy taking over a team who just had their most success and turn them into a team whose looking like they can be highly successful again.
But a win against Tennessee, with the recruits we have on the fence now, would be huge. Not just for this year, but for next year too. Butch Jones has made a living off coming in here and grabbing Nashville kids. But that changes if Vanderbilt takes the Nashville kids that Tennessee didn't want and knocks them on their asses. If Vanderbilt goes out and plays Tennessee the way they're capable of Butch Jones might be the next one on the hot seat. Forget the series records, forget the recruiting classes, forget the coaches salaries, forget how many show up on Saturday, and just focus on good ole fashioned hate.